PhD position in quantifying lightning as source of prebiotic molecules on the early Earth and other worlds

University of St Andrews

PhD 3.5 years St Andrews, UK

Uploaded 14 Mar 2019

Job Description

In 1953, Miller & Urey reported the production of amino acids as the result of a lightning discharge experiment. Their study represented the first experimental demonstration of the abiotic production of biomolecules that are essential for the emergence of life on Earth and is to this date regarded as a major breakthrough in origin of life research. However, several important questions remain unanswered, including whether or not lightning actually constituted an important source of organics and nutrients on the early Earth, and how the production of these compounds would change under conditions resembling extrasolar planets. So far, no extrasolar Earth-twin is known to exists. We aim to address these questions with a paired experimental and theoretical approach with the overall goal to determine if lightning can indeed facilitate the emergence of biomolecules under conditions comparable to extrasolar planets.

Dr Eva Stüeken (School of Earth & Environmental Sciences) and Dr Christiane Helling (School of Physics & Astronomy) advertise a fully funded, joint PhD position. The project will focus on utilizing the Miller-Urey experiment in combination with computational chemistry methods as analysis tools.

Person Specification

This position requires a university degree in Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics, Chemistry or Earth Science at an advanced level (e.g. a MPhys or MSc degree or equivalent), and computational skills, completed by the time of employment. The applicant must be eligible for studies at the graduate level of both schools, Physics & Astronomy and Earth & Environmental Sciences. Employment as a PhD student is for 3.5 years ideally starting September/October 2019. This position is open for EU and UK nationals.


    • UK National
    • EU National